By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Navigate Affordable Housing Partners wants to do more than just build better housing in North Titusville. It wants to build momentum toward a better city, said Lisa McCarroll, who has served as the nonprofit’s CEO since 2018.
“We want to be a catalyst. Our vision of our organization is being the instrument of positive change, so if our presence here helps bring more positive interest in this community so that the families can get the services and programs and things that they’ve asked for all this time . . . beautiful,” McCarroll said.
The organization has served as a “proving ground” for different approaches to affordable housing, most recently modular construction, a style of prefabricated house where individual units of a single building are built inside a factory and fastened together before being transported to a permanent site. Navigate’s Live on 1st project is a series of three modular single-family homes within walking distance of Booker T. Washington K-8 School.
“Over the past few months, Navigate has worked with our partners at Alabama Power Company and Design Initiative to build houses for the working families priced out of owning a home in metro Birmingham,” said McCarroll. “It is truly a challenge to create housing that is not only affordable but also durable, energy efficient and smart. The Live on 1st project is a testament to what is possible when you treat affordability and quality equally.”
On a recent tour of the site this month McCarroll said Navigate, alongside its corporate partners, have sought to provide affordability from multiple angles. The Live on 1st homes are lease-purchase, which gives buyers more time to save money and qualify for a mortgage, and residents have access to financial counselors before formally entering agreements.
“Sometimes people move in, and then something breaks, and it derails them. We want folks to have long term success,” McCarroll said.
In addition, Alabama Power is monitoring power use at the homes for two years to determine how energy-efficient the new houses are, in order to prevent “$350 power bills,” McCarroll said.
She added that Navigate has been working directly with manufacturers of modular homes to “build a better mousetrap” and bring costs down to make modular one of many options for affordable homeownership.
Navigate’s focus has been primarily in the North Titusville neighborhood of Birmingham, a just-west-of-central area in the southern half of the city. Though the neighborhood has been blighted and vacant, it has seen significant investment in recent years.
“We want to be respectful of accomplishing what we need to here in North Titusville…we are looking at other parts of the city, and we’ve talked to some of the city leaders, but we also want to be measured. We we don’t want to go anywhere that we cannot give our best,” McCarroll said.
In addition to Live on 1st, Navigate is currently renovating 12 homes on 5th Court South and planning to build five new homes in the Goldwire Heights subdivision of North Titusville.
The homes on 5th Court South are rental properties which, when the people at Navigate discovered them, were in significant disrepair. McCarroll said Navigate bought the homes and temporarily relocated the residents, before beginning renovation work. Navigate had construction crews demolish the homes down to the stud before rebuilding, and now each of the properties stands with its own brightly painted front.
McCarroll said she and others at Navigate look for several ways to make a difference, including increasing property values, which increases property tax revenue for local schools, as well as decreasing blighted lots and crime.
As for her work, McCarroll said looking out for others was instilled in her during her youth. “Baby, you gotta help somebody,” she said her grandparents used to say. “Each one help one.”